Times may be tough, but that's no reason to abandon your basic mission — publicly stated — and your historic role in town.
When a group of volunteers, Americorps people, and professional builders and construction tradespeople come together to funnel funds from a federal program to weatherize homes in West Asheville, free, while training at-risk youth in construction trades, it is a story at the very heart of the old Mountain Xpress beat. Old as in Julian Price days, Green Line, Public Interest Projects and Investigative Reporting Fund days. And, most pointedly, Dogwood Fund days. This is the spirit, the roots no one knows better than Mountain Xpress.
This story idea was offered to Mountain Xpress on Thursday, Jan. 7, with some urgency, since the cold snap had placed many senior citizens and struggling families in a bad spot. Even leaving aside the idea that this is an emerald green idea that saves energy, lots of energy, immediately, this activity spearheaded by Community Action Opportunities in Asheville and Green Opportunities in West Asheville provides help for those in our community who could use it.
That includes me. GO came knocking on my door recruiting qualified homeowners to have their homes weatherized, free. It seemed like a scam. I checked it out. It wasn't. These folks have already done a couple of dozen homes and have funding to do 60 over the next few months. I applied, qualified, and was accepted. When, after an initial appraisal, they set a date to do the work, I e-mailed Mountain Xpress with the story idea, offering to write it and illustrate it with photographs or simply turn over the contacts to Xpress editors.
As a former employee of Xpress, I have a good idea of the news selection process and the competing interests for space. I received an expression of interest and then nothing. I wrote again the following week and was told the story was handed off to an assignment editor.
When weatherization day rolled around [on] Jan. 13, more than a dozen workers showed up with blueboard, duct tape, hammer and nail, Plexiglas, mastic, masks, plywood, etc., and built insulation retaining dams in the roof, sealed ducts in my house, wrapped my heater in insulation, weather stripped doors. Along with them came a reporter and photographer from the Asheville Citizen-Times and a TV cameraman and reporter from WLOS. Not only did Mountain Xpress not run a story that would have benefited so many of us in West Asheville and beyond, it didn't even send someone to cover it for a future issue.
The shame arises from looking at the current issue that could have carried an announcement, at least, of the program and contact info so folks could know it was available. The lead non-story is a tempest in a teapot feature on a YouTube Mountain Xpress video that got taken down supposedly for political reasons after it went viral and holds the Xpress record, "racking up more than 15,000 views." That is a joke. My kid posted a kitten video that got 4,700,000 hits (see it at http://bit.ly/3v4sr).
The weatherization offer didn't even make your Buzz section.
Maybe it's time to reevaluate Xpress editorial priorities and consider why you're going through all the design changes and upgrades and headaches. As the paper shrinks due to the lingering recession and declining ad revenues and Ashevilleans across the board are going through hard times, maybe it's time to go back to your roots and return to the focus that made Mountain Xpress Asheville's reliable and significant neighborhood newspaper.
— Zhenya Gene Senyak
The editors respond: Thank you for spreading the word about this innovative, free weatherization program. We're fortunate to live in a community with no shortage of smart green initiatives, and we devote considerable attention to them; unfortunately, there are so many that we can't always cover them all. Several factors led to Xpress not covering this particular story, primarily, making some tough choices in the past few weeks about where to concentrate our limited resources, especially in the context of our prior coverage of similar stories.
In the past year, several of our Green Scene columns have focused on the weatherization programs of various organizations, including Warren Wilson College's INSULATE! program, Green Opportunities, Weed & Seed projects and Community Action Opportunities. We've also regularly featured the related projects these and other groups undertake in the community, such as the Buncombe County Extension Office's recent energy-efficiency workshop. Further, Americorps and GO will be featured in an article in our 2010 Green Building Directory, which will be published in March.
For the time being, visit www.greenopportunities.org/asheville-go to learn more about what Green Opportunities is up to.
Regarding Xpress' mission: In our minds, it's just as important as ever, particularly given the tough times you reference. Lastly, regarding last week's cover story about a suppressed Xpress YouTube video, you are indeed not the only one who considered it a "tempest in a teapot." From our perspective, having a piece of our journalism censored for almost two months on the basis of a bogus copyright claim — no matter how many views the video got — was a most-serious matter, and we saw news value in explaining to our readers just what had happened — and how they can keep it from happening to them.